An ambitious project three years in the making is bridging the language gap for international students studying at Southwestern Seminary. On July 23, Southwestern’s English Language Institute was approved to expand to accept full-time international students who need to improve their English comprehension. Because language skills powerfully impact learning, the program is a game-changer for international students.

“Students who couldn’t study here before at Southwestern now have a pathway,” says Caitlin Yowell, ELI director. “The intensive English program is a fast-paced study program. As practical preparation for the ministry, the ELI prepares English-language learners to study and communicate in English at the academic level and use English for global ministry. It’s really been a blessing.”

The 36-hour program includes instruction in grammar, speaking, listening, reading, writing, theological vocabulary and academic skills. The program is for incoming students who score high enough on the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) to have basic skills, but not high enough to begin a degree program at Southwestern.

“It allows us to train F1 visa students whom we were never able to reach before, and allows remedial English assistance for existing students who need help,” says Michael Wilkinson, dean of Scarborough College. “Also, current students’ wives can enter the program to be a help to their husbands in their ministry.”

Support is provided through formal classroom instruction, computer-assisted learning and cultural immersion opportunities. Classes are taught by Yowell and David Sanchez, a Ph.D. candidate at the seminary. Students who successfully complete the program will earn a TOEFL waiver for bachelor’s and most master’s degree programs at Southwestern.

The ELI was first conceived in a Scarborough College faculty meeting, Wilkinson says. “It was envisioned as a way to certify Southwestern students to teach English internationally. Then, we met with Andy Morris and realized that it would allow us to reach out to an entirely new group of students.” Southwestern trustees first approved the ELI at their 2015 spring meeting. Morris, director of international student ministry and services at Southwestern, suggested then that the ELI could serve incoming international students and began the process of requesting federal approval for that role. 

The U.S. Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) reviewed the program for approval to admit international students, and approval was granted July 23. SEVP, under the authority of Immigration Customs and Enforcement (ICE), acts as a bridge for government organizations that have an interest in information on nonimmigrants whose primary reason for coming to the United States is education.

“The ELI allows us to reach an entire new class of international students who previously could not study with us due to their limitations with the English language,” Morris says. “We are incredibly excited that this door is now open so that we can ultimately train and send out even more workers for God’s harvest around the world. This is also a blessing for our current international students who may unexpectedly need some extra help with their English.”

The program is up and running with students who already live in the Fort Worth area. Yowell says that, by fall 2019, the seminary hopes to have a full-fledged cohort of incoming students full-time in the ELI.